Cablegate: Thailand Civair: Readout On Faa Consultations With

Published: Tue 6 Sep 2005 02:09 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: STATE 155552
1. (U) SUMMARY: Consultations between a visiting team from
the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and officials from
the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) met pursuant to reftel
and previous consideration of problems relating to the Thai
carrier Phuket Air on August 13, 2005. The discussions were
friendly and the Thais forthcoming on the state of aviation
safety oversight in Thailand. The issue of safety on Phuket
Air has resolved itself in that the company has reduced its
commercial air services down to two little-used routes.
Nevertheless, serious deficiencies with respect to the
adequacy and the sustainability of safety oversight in
Thailand exist, particularly regarding existing law and
regulations as well as financial resources and numbers of
inspectors. Going forward, additional consultations and
possibly a full safety audit will be required to evaluate the
level of safety oversight as deemed necessary by the FAA. The
Embassy views the willingness of the Thais to discuss
oversight issue candidly as a solid basis for further
consultations. The Embassy will continue to monitor aviation
safety issues and work with all competent authorities to
facilitate further consultations, technical assistance, and
other endeavors to ensure that oversight of aviation safety
in Thailand meets international standards. End Summary.
2. (U) Embassy Civil Aviation Officer and visiting Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) team met with Mr. Vichai
Prateeprecha, Deputy Director General of the Department of
Civil Aviation (DCA) of the Royal Thai Government (RTG) and
seven other aviation safety officials in Bangkok on August
31, 2005. Representing the FAA were Michael E. Daniel,
Manager, International Programs and Policy Division
(Washington, DC), Larry G. Kephart, Division Manager
(Lawndale, CA), R. Andrew Edwards, Manager (San Francisco,
CA), and David M. Smith, Manager (Singapore).
3. (U) The above meeting was originally scheduled at the
Embassy's request in response to safety concerns involving
the carrier Phuket Air, raised earlier in the year. In June
2005, an interagency committee chaired by the Deputy Chief of
Mission at the Embassy considered whether to issue a caution
to US Government employees (and by extension to all American
citizens in accordance with the "no double standard" policy)
in view of deficiencies in operations by Phuket Air reported
by aviation authorities in the United Kingdom and the
Netherlands. The American Express travel office at the
Embassy reports that it issued 129 tickets on Phuket Air in
2004 and 84 tickets for travel on Phuket Air in 2005. At the
time the Department of Civil Aviation was closely following
the matter. At said interagency meeting, it was agreed to
defer action because the RTG authorities were responding to
the concerns that had received widespread publicity in the
local press. Embassy officers also wished to consult with
acknowledged experts in the area of aviation safety at the
next available opportunity, which was during the visit of the
above team to Thailand in late August.
4. (U) As events turned, in the days immediately preceding
the August 31 consultations, the Government of France
blacklisted Phuket Air and Phuket Air announced that it was
discontinuing all of its commercial flights, except for one
flight to Ranong and one flight to Burma. The company
reportedly plans to lease its aircraft to other carriers such
as Saudi Arabian Airlines. With the prospect of US Government
employees traveling on Phuket Air diminished to essentially
nil, the Embassy interagency committee decided not to issue
any caution at its follow-up meeting on September 1. The
Embassy will continue to monitor aviation safety as a matter
of course.
5. (U) In response to reftel, Embassy requested the addition
of the aviation safety concerns regarding whether Thailand is
meeting international standards to the agenda for the FAA-DCA
meeting scheduled to be held on August 31. The DCA agreed,
and for the reasons set out above, the majority of the
90-minute meeting focused on matters of the RTG oversight of
aviation safety. The proceedings were friendly. The Thai
officials acknowledged problems and responded openly to
questions. They also willingly volunteered relevant
6. (U) This positive working relationship notwithstanding,
material deficiencies in RTG oversight of aviation safety
exist, confirmed by the recent International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) inspection. DCA officials shared copies
of appendices 1-4-1 and 1-5-1 on aircraft operations and
airworthiness of aircraft respectively of the draft Findings
and Recommendations of said ICAO inspection.
7. (U) Discussion of ICAO findings was detailed and at times
highly technical. As the lead agency on aviation safety, the
FAA will follow up on the team's particular findings in due
course. Set out below is a summary of the main issues
emerging from the bilateral consultations as communicated to
the Charge during the FAA team's outbrief at the Embassy on
August 31. In broad terms, the basic question at issue is
whether RTG laws, regulations, staffing, financial and other
resources, and plans going forward provide for a sustainable
program that meets international standards for oversight of
aviation safety.
8. (U) A primary area of concern is the adequacy of the
existing basic aviation law. The current law dates back over
twenty years, and as a result the regulations and
administrative guidance flowing from it are not adequate to
meet present-day needs. The law has been under review, but
at the current pace, revision is not expected for another
year, possibly two years.
9. (U) The most immediately pressing area of concern is a
shortage of sufficient financial resources and personnel to
maintain an adequate regime of inspection and oversight. In
recent months the DCA has moved to fill inspector positions
with temporary personnel, but this move is a stop-gap
measure. Improvement in the funding for safety oversight is
necessary in order to hire permanent inspectors and to train
them adequately.
10. (U) The FAA will follow closely the RTG's immediate plans
for action in response to the ICAO study. At a minimum,
further consultations of a similar nature may be expected.
11. (U) Some of the morning's discussion focused on concerns
about safety oversight on the part of Thailand's principal
carrier, Thai Airways. Since both Thai Airways and United
Airlines are members of the Star Alliance and operate in
Thailand, the FAA plans to consult with United on its
auditing of safety oversight at Thai Airways. Embassy
Aviation Officer communicated this point to the General
Manager of United's operations in Bangkok on September 1.
12. (U) In view of the positive role that technical
assistance may have in improving aviation safety in Thailand,
the FAA team expressed the willingness of the FAA to offer
technical assistance on a reimbursable basis.
13. (U) In a meeting between the Charge and the Minister of
Transport Pongsak Ruktapongpisal later in the day on August
31, the Embassy communicated our concerns via a non-paper.
The meeting focused principally on the Open Skies
negotiations scheduled for September 7-8. The Minister's
staff accepted the non-paper without comment. The Embassy
will highlight the issue of aviation safety at the
ministerial level at the next opportunity.
14. (U) Under the International Aviation Safety Assessment
(IASA) program, the FAA will determine whether a full
assessment is required in order to evaluate whether
Thailand's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is carrying out its
obligation to oversee safety of carriers in accordance with
minimum international standards established by the ICAO, or
to proceed with further bilateral consultations regarding the
recent ICAO inspection and the CAA's immediate steps to
remedy deficiencies.
15. (U) Discussion of whether a given aspect of aviation
oversight, particularly the number of inspectors, is adequate
can be highly technical and detailed. During the meeting,
Michael Daniels described for the Thais a general criterion
that may be of use for all concerned when discussing the
issue with other parties as well. The essential test of
whether an oversight regime ensures adequate surveillance and
certification, he said, is whether there are problems in
these areas. If problems recur, then it is inadquate and
more resources and attention is required.
16. (U) The Embassy believes that the willingness of the
Thais to be forthcoming on deficiencies and areas of concern
affords a very positive basis for future consultations on the
substantive points at issue. Owing to both the specialized
nature of safety issues and the fact of a successful start to
the bilateral dialogue on aviation safety oversight between
the competent officials on both sides, the Embassy plans to
maintain these consultations on their own track going
forward. The Embassy is also willing to facilitate technical
assistance or other cooperative endeavors involving the
American aviation safety authorities and the RTG as
circumstances needed to ensure that oversight of aviation
safety in Thailand is up to international standards. End
18. This cable has been cleared by the FAA representatives
listed in paragraph 2.
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